Aging RB Matt Forte has stumbling start for New York Jets

By The Sports Xchange  |  Aug. 2, 2017 at 1:06 PM
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Jets opened training camp with three 30-somethings penciled -- lightly -- into the starting lineup. After only four practices, it appears Todd Bowles and Mike Maccagnan might have to utilize their erasers.

Running back Matt Forte sustained a hamstring injury during Tuesday's practice. The Jets probably will proceed cautiously with the 31-year-old Forte, who missed most of training camp last season because of a hamstring injury and had his season shortened by a knee injury.

Any absence by Forte could open the door for Bilal Powell -- no spring chicken himself at 28 -- to fully wrest the starting job.

Powell had 411 rushing yards in the final four games of last season, second behind only Pittsburgh Steelers star Le'Veon Bell, and offers a Forte-like skill set with the ability to serve as a true three-down back who can catch passes out of the backfield.

The more interesting position battle might be brewing at quarterback, where Christian Hackenberg has looked competent in the early days of camp.

While 38-year-old veteran Josh McCown is still drawing the majority of first-team snaps, Hackenberg has not thrown an interception in four 11-on-11 practices.

"It shows, at least for me, some growth in some areas," Hackenberg said. "Recognition, those types of things."

Of course, progress being measured by pick-free performances in 11-on-11 drills shows how low the bar has been set for Hackenberg, whose rookie season basically ended when he completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes in limited preseason duty against second- and third-stringers.

Still, any progress by Hackenberg will be noticed by the Jets, who understand they have to turn the reins to him at some point this season to determine what they do (or don't) have entering a 2018 draft that is expected to be filled with potential franchise quarterbacks.

And the longer Hackenberg goes playing mostly mistake-free ball, even in controlled situations, the more the Jets may have to ponder giving him a legitimate shot at the starting job, especially if McCown -- who was 16-of-19 while steering a conservative offense on Tuesday -- continues to be steady but unspectacular.

"It's an evaluation period," head coach Todd Bowles said Tuesday. "They have some good throws. They have some bad throws. We have to see who is more consistent over time and who makes those plays."

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A visit to training camp by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell generated headlines for the Jets, though probably not in the way they envisioned.

Rookie safety Jamal Adams created a two-day firestorm Monday, when he sat next to Goodell during a fan forum inside an auditorium at the Jets' training complex and drew a round of applause for responding to a question about player safety by declaring if he had to chose " ... the perfect place to die, I'd die on the field."

Over the next 24 hours, Adams' comment became fodder for the "hot take" kings of sports talk, as well as those conditioned to view the issue with far more nuance.

Keana McMahon, the former wife of late Pittsburgh Steelers lineman Justin Strzelczyk, told the New York Daily News she was bothered by Adams' statement.

Strzelczyk killed himself following a high-speed car chase with police in upstate New York in 2004.

"I don't even know what to say," McMahon told the Daily News. "This guy doesn't know what's coming down the pipeline. He has no idea what dealing with someone who has CTE is like."

Adams said he discussed the brouhaha with his father, former New York Giants running back George Adams, as well as Jets head coach Todd Bowles, the latter of whom told him to try and control the damage on Tuesday.

"Honestly, I really didn't see it getting that far," the younger Adams said following practice Tuesday. "I was speaking about being passionate about the game that I love. I understand that some families were affected by this disease (CTE). I definitely didn't mean it any type of way."

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The Jets welcomed the first female coach in team history Saturday, when camp opened with Collette Smith working as an intern.

Smith, a 44-year-old native of Queens who played three seasons in the Independent Women's Football League, is assisting defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson.

She is the third female coach in the NFL, following in the footsteps of former Arizona Cardinals coaching intern Jen Walter in 2015 and former Buffalo Bills quality control coach Kathryn Smith in 2016.

Jets head coach Todd Bowles said Smith impressed him when she attended some practices last season.

"Just talking to her over the course of time, her football knowledge was outstanding," Bowles said. "She's a hell of a football coach. We talked a lot and she fits in with the guys so we gave her a chance."

NOTES: LT Ben Ijalana (knee) practiced for the first time this summer on Tuesday. Ijalana missed the first three workouts while recovering from knee surgery he underwent in June. He split reps on Tuesday with presumed starting LT Kelvin Beachum. ... WR Robby Anderson (hamstring) returned to practice Tuesday. Anderson exited Monday's workout due to what head coach Todd Bowles called a "tweak" of his hamstring. The second-year wideout is competing with several candidates for the no. 2 receiver job. ... WR Chad Hansen (knee) appeared in a training camp practice for the first time on Tuesday. Hansen battled a knee injury during OTAs but is expected to compete for No. 2 wide receiver duties with the depleted Jets.

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